I was a young child during World War II. As I look back I realize this was a time of great change in American society. Not only were we fighting a large scale war in far away countries, but we were also changing the way things were done at home, especially if one lived in the country as opposed to the city. By living in the country I mean living where if you wanted to purchase anything that was not delivered to the door, you needed a car. Of course there were various catalogs, however for everyday shopping most of what we bought we purchased from the local stores. The internet did not of course exist.
Because like most people we had only one car my mother could not get out to shop all that often. My father worked as a salesman and he usually needed the car to get around. In addition, gas was rationed so no one used it thoughtlessly or took trips just for the fun of it. On Sundays, all the stores were closed. That pretty much left Saturdays and the occasional afternoon when my dad would work at home catching up on paperwork, for my mother to shop anywhere we could not walk to. Living where we did, that would mean a couple of miles trek, and with my short little legs that would have been unrealistic.
Milk was delivered, and ice for the icebox with the pan that accumulated water underneath that had to be emptied regularly. Eventually the milkman added bread to his supplies. In addition there was a woman who walked from town to town lugging a large suitcase with all sorts of small items for sale. She sold what might be termed “dry goods.” The dictionary definition for dry goods is “textiles, ready made clothing, and sundries.” She always stopped at our house. It was exciting for me when she did.
I can still see her coming into our living room and opening her big suitcase. In it were needles and thread, buttons, handkerchiefs and occasionally something rare in those days: nylons. They had seams, and were shear unlike the cotton stockings that were available. My mother would buy thread, pretty hair ribbons for me, and sometimes cotton socks. In the winter the peddler woman sold woolen gloves and hats. In the summer she might have carried the sun bonnets my mother insisted I wear to protect my fair skin.
How different the world is today. The end of WWII brought in a new era in so many ways. How little understanding children growing up today must have of what it is like to buy from a peddler woman, a strap over her shoulder, clutching the handle of her suitcase as she walked from town to town with her notions and dry goods. I don’t remember when she stopped coming and we went instead to the big stores in Beverly to shop. It could have been around the time we got an electric refrigerator to replace the zinc lined icebox by the kitchen door. When one is small, time dissolves into timelessness, and memory delivers images not dates.